Walking through the House

My second walk began at my college flat Loring Hall: every time I had gone out, I realized that I never paid attention to my surroundings with the critical eye of a walking historian.

Every morning, you can be woken up by one of two ways: if you live on the back side of the building as I do, you can hear the train that passes just below the window every five minutes; if you live on the front side of the building, you can hear the screams of the primary school kids during recess which takes place about ever hour. Needless to say, this is not a place for the light sleeper.

The facilities were built in what looks like the mid 20th century, with clear refurbishments made to both the interior and exterior of the building. Outside of my particular section is a dumpster which is frequented by two or more foxes each night, who see fit to scatter the contents across the drive, much to the chagrin of the groundskeepers.

I know that New Cross has a considerable black presence in the community; however, the primary school within the bounds of the dormitories is attended by more than ninety percent black children. In the same vein, most of the groundskeepers and caretakers of the college are black or hispanic, both men and women. This causes me to wonder why there are not more black or hispanic people teaching at a predominantly white faculty institution…

None the less, I began to walk to Nunhead Cemetery in Southwark. To get here, I walked past the bus stop and over the New Cross Gate train station. Along this side of the street can be found the White Rose Inn, a popular drinking and eating site for Goldsmiths students. The Inn is decorated with dark color schemes, and when I passed, a man was washing the windows, indicating a clean environment.

Across the bridge are a few shops: Liquor store, general convenience shop, sandwich joint, and postage office. I turned left onto Jerningham Road, which curves uphill with town houses lining both sides of the street. At the very bottom of the hill is a brick gated secondary school. The town houses are well kept, pointing to a community that is decently well off. Most of the houses have cars parked outside of them, which means the residents can afford to not take public transport. At the top of the hill is Telegraph Park, known for its wide view of downtown London. Next to the park is St Cathrine’s parish, a well kept church with a seemingly very involved congregation, as the post board outside the church had many events and signup lists posted.

I turned right to go down Kitto Road. The town houses continued for some time, but then individual housing developments emerged. The streets became cleaner; leaves had been removed, cars were generally cleaner, lawns were tended to. I crossed a few roads and a train track onto Gibbon Road where apartments took over. These buildings were very crammed together, and junk cluttered the small front lawns. Most of the blinds were closed on their windows, and some ill-dressed men leaned on the open door posts of some of the complexes. Crossing over to Linden Grove, I could now see the cemetery.

Before one gets to the main gate, one walks down the sidewalk next to the gated cemetery. Even though the gate is of a thin iron bar style, you can’t see into the cemetery because of the overgrowth of trees and vines which thickly litter the grave site.

Upon entering the front gate, you will find two houses, one to the right and one to the left of the entrance. The one on the right seemed to be occupied by a groundskeeper and his family. The left house was covered in scaffolding, as it was currently under renovation. Up the path is a decorative water fountain, and to the right, an obelisk erected in doctor Joseph Hume in 1837 as a monument dedicated to the “Scottish Martyrs”.

Along the straight path up the hill are impressive grave markers evenly spaced away from the path. Behind these are less impressive, more simple grave markers amongst the overcrowding shrubbery. The Friends of Nunhead describe in their mission statement: “It’s formal avenue of towering limes and the Gothic gloom of the original Victorian planting gives way to paths which recall the country lanes of a bygone era.” At the top of the summit is an old anglican chapel. The informative sign next to the structure read that the chapel was built in 1840 by Thomas Little, a famous and prolific gothic architect. Apparently, Little had built a sister chapel to the north of the cemetery, which had been destroyed by bombing during the second world war. The chapel which still stands held burial ceremonies for over 100 years before the cemetery was too crowded for any more burials. Thus, the grounds were abandoned, and until recently, was reopened as a nature preserve where many go to observe the wild foul which currently occupy its foliage.

The paths throughout the cemetery are lined with headstones, some seemingly forgotten, others well tended by loved ones. One section is dedicated solely to soldiers; another to religious leaders. A BBC article list the stories of a few notable persons buried on the site: “…buried at Nunhead are heroes who fought at the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, and a gallant airman who lost his life chasing an enemy Zepplin across London’s skies.” I can only wonder what influential people are buried in the grounds.

The second half of my walk took place the following day:

I began, again, from my flat in Loring Hall, toward Greenwich park. This time, I passed through Fordham park to Edward Street. One of the class walks was to this area–further along the road are houses and apartments that vary in quality, most being well kept. Once I passed under the Deptford train bridge, the generic apartments became well furbished. The sidewalk was a light cream as if it were new. Amongst the apartments was a nursing home, which indicated to me that this was a safe neighborhood.

Closer to Greenwich are shops, stores, and business buildings. The road is in desperate need of repair, with pot holes and cracks everywhere. On the right side of A200 is a great glass business building, very modern and very clean. On the left side are a few shops and cafes, most well kept and well decorated with greenery and holiday flare. Into downtown Greenwich are many shops and restaurants, windows advertising a very homy and intimate atmosphere. The streets are clean and bustling with business. Past the naval museum is the entrance to the park.

The park is one of the loveliest parks I have been to in London, probably due to the presence of the “queen’s house” on the south end of the park. In the middle of the park on the top of the hill is the royal observatory, from which the meridian line can be viewed every night. The lawn is well groomed, and the paths well kept. Dogs roam freely off leash, and birds of all kinds perch in the trees. The gardens are full of different flowers, and a deer pasture with viewing platform is tucked behind the trees on the north end.

According to royalparks.org, Greenwich park is the oldest enclosed Royal Park:

“There has been a settlement on this site since Roman times, but Greenwich has always been strongly associated with royalty. Since the land was inherited in 1427 by the Duke of Gloucester, brother of Henry V, generations of monarchs have taken this magnificent park to their hearts.

Greenwich was the birthplace of Henry VIII who introduced deer to the park. His two daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were also born here and his son Edward VI died in Greenwich before he reached his sixteenth birthday. In the early 1600s, the park was laid out in the French style with many trees planted, some of which remain today. James I gave the palace and the park to his wife, Queen Anne, who commissioned Inigo Jones to design her a special home which became know as the Queen’s House.

It was Charles II’s great interest in science that resulted in the founding of The Royal Society in 1661. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build The Royal Observatory, named Flamsteed House after the first Royal Astronomer John Flamsteed and now part of the National Maritime Museum. Today Greenwich is a World Heritage Site and is most famous for Greenwich Mean Time. During World War II, there were anti-aircraft guns in the Flower Garden and the tips of some of the trees were cut off to widen the field of fire. Evidence of this can still be seen in the truncated shape of some of the trees. After the war, the park was restored to its former glory.”

During my walk, I suppose the thing that struck me the most was how quickly living conditions could change from neighborhood to neighborhood. It was almost as though I was walking through different rooms of a house, each room being different from the other. Not only were some neighborhoods much older than others, many of them were just kept up and taken care of better.

 

Quill, Simon. “Friends of Nunhead Cemetery.” Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, http://www.fonc.org.uk/.

BBC. “History of Nunhead Cemetery.” BBC Articles, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2005/05/10/nunwood_cemetery_feature.shtml.

@Theroyalparks. “History and Architecture.” The Royal Parks, http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park/about-greenwich-park/history-and-architecture.

 

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